Thursday, December 5, 2013

Analyzing Scope Creep

            Scope creep can be a project manager's nightmare! Scope creep is defined by Portny et al. (2008) as "the natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project's output as the project progresses" (p. 346). In other words, the scope or the subject matter of the project is extended for any number of reasons. This happened to me a couple years ago when my school had to update and create curriculum maps. At the time I was teaching 9th grade English and 7th and 8th grade Theater, so it seemed like a ginormous task. Updating the curriculum maps meant creating two kinds of maps:
1.      The calendar map--this is basically a map that explains what units will be covered at what time during the school year. For example, in English, I start with the short story unit in August and September, and we move on to poetry in October, etc. However, I also had to include the benchmark codes in these maps so that made this task more difficult since the benchmarks are numerous and multiple benchmarks are covered in each unit.
2.      The consensus map--this "map" is like a unit plan. Every essential question, benchmark, activity, resource, assessment, etc. is listed in the appropriate area so that essentially, a new teacher could pick up the consensus map and understand how to teach the unit.
            These maps aren't that difficult to create; however, they are time-consuming. It's basically taking the lesson plans that are made each week and putting them into another format, but in order for it to be useful for others in the future, the project manager made sure they were all done in the same format and were very specific. Because I taught three classes, this meant I had to create 3 calendars maps and around 27 consensus maps. It was my first year at the school and I was given until the end of the school year and that's where the scope creep started... I was creating everything from scratch so not only was I reading multiple novels, plays, and selections from the textbook, I had to create meaningful assessments and provide meaningful feedback so that my learners could grow and reach their full potential. And even though creating the curriculum maps basically means reiterating the lesson plans, it was something I put on the back burner since I had until the end of the school year.
            After the first semester, the project manager reminded us that we should have our calendar maps completed and the consensus maps from first semester done as well. If not, we were behind. Well, I was behind and so were many of my other first-year colleagues. We had no clue! We were just trying to survive, really. So I tried to do some work over the Christmas break, but I didn't get as much done as I had hoped. I completed the calendar maps and something like the first three consensus maps for my English 9 course. When we came back in January, we were given some time during a professional development day to get some more maps done, but in the two hours we were given I completed only one more map.
            It was becoming clearer and clearer that I would need more time to get the curriculum maps done. However, that isn't what happened. Instead, we were threatened that our last paycheck would be withheld if we didn't complete our curriculum maps. I'm not sure what others did, but I panicked and spent every long weekend working on curriculum maps. In fact, the only reason I was able to finish all of the curriculum maps was because I got appendicitis and was forbidden to go to school for 21 days. The first week I spent resting and recuperating but after that, I was feeling pretty good so I completed the remaining curriculum maps and received my paycheck at the end of the year. (Side note: The paycheck threat turned out to be an empty one. I know of a few teachers who "promised" to send the remaining maps and never did... but I'm sure they got their paycheck!)
            Writing the curriculum maps was stressful for everyone, the project manager included. However, if I were her, I would have...
a)      Gotten more time set aside for teachers to write the curriculum maps. There were teacher in-service days, but there weren't enough! And some of them were planned for 3:00-6:00 p.m., after the school day! That is not an optimal time to do more work.
b)      Created milestones that would act as checkpoints for people. Then I would know exactly who was behind and find a way to work with them so that the project could stay on track (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 99).
c)      Checked in with people more often and documented that interaction (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). If I recall correctly, the project manager was good about visiting everyone, but there wasn't much for follow-up. If she had set milestones and had each teacher create their own Gantt chart (or a simplified version that said something like, "By the end of October, I will have the Short Story consensus maps completed."), her feedback would have been more meaningful and direct. Also, she could have identified the "symptoms" of poor project performance and perhaps done more to help those who were struggling (Portny et al., 2008, p. 320).
d)     Changed the timeline. Honestly, there was no rush to complete the curriculum maps. Yes, they are nice to have, especially when one works at an international school that has a high turnover rate, but it wasn't until this year that SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) came for our reaccreditation visit. That's when the curriculum maps were needed!
            Luckily, the project wasn't a complete failure. All of the loose ends were tied up in the following years, but more effort should have gone in to planning of the project and the documentation of its progress (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 96). Lynch and Roecker (2007) wrote, "Initial estimates are sometimes not as accurate as we would like" (p. 97). Perhaps the project manager should have asked those who were writing the curriculum maps about their progress and used that to create a baseline to inform the overall timeline of the project (Lynch & Roecker, 2007, p. 97). I think that would have saved many of us curriculum map writers a lot of stress!  
Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge.
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.